Monday, December 31, 2012

Question of the Week: When?

If not now, then when?

I think this is an appropriate question for this time of year. So many times people are faced with the desire to make changes in their lives... "I wanna quit smoking; I wanna lose weight; I want to be nicer to people..." But then they decide they're gonna wait until the New Year to make some kind of resolution that they'll end up breaking before Groundhog Day. I say, why wait? It's so easy to put things off. Believe me, I know. I've been a professional procrastinator for a good 15 years now, and I was a decent amateur back in the day. But when it comes to becoming a better person or chasing after the desires that you know God has placed in your heart, there's no point in putting it off. It's like the question from a couple weeks ago, about living or existing. Are you really living if you're choosing to put off pushing yourself, or are you just existing?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Misérables

I saw Les Misérables with my family on Christmas day. I decided not to write down my thoughts right away because I have this tendency to get over excited about movies that I enjoyed immediately after seeing them. I know what you're thinking. Me? Excited? Something's not right there. But, yes, I do get excited sometimes. I wait because I don't want to describe a movie as inappropriately awesome when it turns out to be less than awesome a few days later, after the whole thing really sinks in.

So I've waited to share my thoughts on Les Misérables. As it turns out, my thoughts about it have not changed. This movie was amazing. There are lots of superlatives that could be used to describe it. Some other good ones I've heard are phenomenal, fantastic and, of course, awesome.

Before this, my only real exposure to Les Misérables was the version with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush that was made back in 1998. That version wasn't the musical. It was just a film based on the book written by Victor Hugo. And I remember thinking it was kind of depressing. And I don't remember much more about it. The only scene that really sticks out in my mind is at the end when Geoffrey Rush's Javert commits suicide. The rest of it is kind of a boring blur.

I'm really glad I did not let that movie taint my view of Les Misérables. Of course I've heard the music from the stage show before. I've never seen it performed on stage, but I have a CD with highlights from the original cast. For a while there, it seemed like On My Own was the go to song for just about any girl looking to perform a solo. And, thanks to Susan Boyle, pretty much everyone in the English speaking world has heard I Dreamed a Dream.

I can't compare this new film to Broadway, or even off-Broadway. But I can keep describing it as amazing, phenomenal, fantastic, awesome. I can see Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway getting Oscar nominations for their roles. And I'll probably be more than a little disappointed if Hathaway doesn't win hers. As Fantine, her story is told fairly early on in the movie. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the tears began. Anne Hathaway doesn't get a great deal of screen time, but what she has is powerful. Her life is tragic. She belts out I Dreamed a Dream with an incredible amount of emotion. I dare anyone seeing that scene not to cry just a little. I don't have a soul and I cried like a little girl.

Hugh Jackman plays the main character, Jean Valjean, who we follow from start to finish. He's a sympathetic criminal who, at first, seems unable to escape the cycle of crime that keeps him at the bottom of humanity's barrel. But an act of kindness from a bishop turns his life completely around. Valjean decides to start a new life with a new identity, refusing to allow his past to define the man he should be. After this, Valjean shows mercy to his fellow man over and over again. It's his way of living the grace that he knows God has given to him.

He even shows this mercy to his relentless pursuer, Javert, played kind of flatly by Russell Crowe. I don't mean to belittle Crowe's performance here. I think he's a good actor. But he doesn't seem like he's used to singing and acting simultaneously. And that's not to say there's anything against his singing voice either. But the way this movie was filmed was different than most musicals you see on the big screen. None of the songs (and every line of dialogue is delivered in song) were lip synched by the actors. They were sung on set, just as if they were delivering regular lines of spoken dialogue. The emotion delivered so easily by Hathaway and Jackman just wasn't there with Crowe. Again, it wasn't bad. It's just hard to compare his performance to the others.

Les Misérables tells a very sad, yet powerfully inspirational story. The movie comes in at just over 2.5 hours. I spent about 2 of those hours crying off and on. Thankfully, not all of those tears came from a depressing storyline. Despite a poverty stricken backdrop, there is an incredible message of hope to be found in the life of Jean Valjean. See this movie. That's my advice as 2012 comes to an end.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Birthday Girl

Have I ever mentioned my mild crush on Alison Brie? She's the actress who plays Annie Edison on Community and Trudy Campbell on Mad Men. She can also be seen in such recent big screen ventures as Scream 4 and The Five Year Engagement. She's a woman who could probably convince me to start dating again. You know, if she asked real nice.
Today's her birthday. And sure the kitten is cute, but check out the girl holding her. Just sayin'.

I don't have a lot of money, Ms. Brie, so I can't buy you anything nice for your special day. But what I do have is this blog that is read semi-regularly by more than 50 people. I really don't like to brag, but I think this is the kind of birthday publicity that even IMDB can't give.
Happy birthday!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Catch-Up

Wow... I am a huge slacker at Christmastime. I've posted nothing on here since Friday, and even that was just a shameless promotion for the Carp Dime Facebook page (which you're still more than welcome to click over to and like... you know, if you wanna). I won't give out excuses about how the last few days have been busy (even though they have). I'll just tell you what's been going on during those last few busy days.

Really, things haven't been that incredibly busy. My weekend was a typical weekend. I worked that part-time gig on Saturday and Sunday. And Sunday was a change to my normal part-time work schedule. For the first time I had been scheduled to work when the store opened, rather than when it closed. On the plus side, I was done with work at 1pm. That left me with so much time for activities!

Except that I didn't have any planned activities. I had no plans for most of Monday either. Christmas Eve was boring until I drove into Roanoke for the big family hootenanny. There was food. There was a lot of food. And that food included Mamaw's famous Crackaroni and Cheese. It's really just macaroni and cheese, but she's got to add something to it that makes it extra delicious and extremely addictive. If it wasn't for that mac and cheese, I wouldn't have gone back for thirds. When it was time to open presents, I was a little afraid that my digestive system would cease to function due to overuse. I did not save room for dessert. However, I did eat two pieces of pie and a couple sausage balls a few hours later when dessert was served. Where it went, I don't know.

The present opening time was more fun than I expected it to be. I don't have kids of my own, but it was still pretty cool to watch my young cousins open their gifts. They're all still at that young age where they get so excited over what surprises could be behind that wrapping paper. Since I work retail at a clothing store these days, it should come as no surprise that the gifts I gave came from there. I was a little scared I was gonna end up being that jerk that no one liked because all he gave them for Christmas was clothes. But the quote of the night came from my 4-year-old cousin, who said of her shirt, "I got a famous shirt!"

I stayed the night at mom's. I was exhausted and I'm not sure how I stayed up any later than the moment I walked through the front door and sat on the sofa. But I ended up staying up a while longer with mom as she flipped through the channels. I couldn't convince her to stop on A Christmas Story, which was playing non-stop. She did, however, find the last half hour of The Greatest Story Ever Told. The Christian Studies major in me ended up picking on little issues that I had with what I was seeing. I'm not saying I was right about anything I was saying. I'm just pointing out that I was over-thinking. Something I tend to do a lot.

On Christmas day, as if I hadn't eaten enough food the previous night, mom made brunch. This meal consisted of eggs, apples, hash browns, biscuits, sausage grave... that might be it. I ate too much again. Afterward, we went on our annual Christmas outing to the cinema. This year's feature: Les Miserables. In short, it was freakin' fantastic. In long, come back tomorrow for my full thoughts.

After the movie I drove back home to Radford. It's a ghost town at the moment, with all the college kids at home for Christmas break. I'm fairly certain I'm the only soul in my building. It's peaceful and creepy all at the same time.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas.

On a side note, congratulations to Mr. Mark Hipes, the winner of the Facebook page drawing for a $30 iTunes gift card. If you go and like the Facebook page, you'll be kept up to date on more fun things that will be happening in the future. 2013's gonna be a fun year. Let's get to work.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas Day Giveaway

Hey kids! It's a special time of year. A time for sharing and giving. And that's what I want to do through this blog. I want to give. So that's what I'm gonna do.

Some of you may have noticed that I recently added a Facebook button to the top right of the page. Carp Dime now has a Facebook page that you are able to visit and even like if you are so inclined. And here's some incentive for liking the Carp Dime page on Facebook...

If you click like on the Facebook page before Christmas day, your name will be entered into a drawing for a $30 iTunes gift card. The drawing will occur on Christmas day, at which time I will announce the winner through the Facebook page.

Liking Carp Dime on Facebook gives you another way to keep up with the blog. And there will sometimes be content there that won't be on the blog. And 2013 will see more fun events and giveaways. So go. Click. Like. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Apocamix

So, apparently the Maya long count calendar comes to an end tomorrow. Have you heard about this? There are doomsdayers out there who claim that the end of this calendar will usher in some kind of cataclysm from which humanity will be unable to escape. I don't buy it. But just in case, I want to let you know that I've created a special playlist that I refer to as The Apocamix. It's a mix of apocalyptic favorites that will help you cope with the end of the world. So here's your list of music to play as you await your judgment day...
  • "Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zeppelin
  • "Highway to Hell" - AC/DC
  • "It's the End of the World As We Know It" - REM
  • "We Didn't Start the Fire" - Billy Joel
  • "The End" - The Beatles
  • "Riders on the Storm" - The Doors
  • "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" - DC Talk
  • "The End of the World" - Nina Gordon
  • "Let the Sunshine In" - The Fifth Dimension
  • "In the Year 2525" - Zager and Evans
  • "It's Not Over ('Til It's Over)" - Starship
  • "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" - The Beatles
  • "The Final Countdown" - Europe
  • "The End" - The Doors

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I never read The Hobbit. I'll pause for a moment and let the shock and awe pass. I assume that some of you will be feeling some sense of shock and awe at that news. That's how a lot of people react when I tell them I've also never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But I loved the movies. And I'd like to read the books. Someday. Life just gets busy, you know?

As I said, I loved the movies that Peter Jackson made a decade ago. They were epic and visually stunning and pretty much awesome. For a while there, it seemed like The Hobbit would never get made. It was one of those ideas that fans clamored for that they couldn't seem to get right. Every time news about the possibility of the prequel being filmed came out, I'd get excited. But I'd also be very skeptical. It's hard to get excited about the possibility of movies when every little snippet of information makes its way to the internet, no matter how unlikely the rumor. I'm pretty sure more than one director was attached to The Hobbit before Peter Jackson finally relented and signed on. And at that point, it was going to be two movies.

Now it's been split into three. Of course, you'll have to forgive my ignorance, as I've never read the book. But are three separate films really necessary when this was just one book? Using that logic, the Lord of the Rings trilogy should have really been 9 movies, right? Now, I've heard they're expanding the cinematic universe of Middle Earth by including some of Tolkien's other work and not just relying on The Hobbit. Again, I wouldn't really know anything about that. Since I've never read anything at all by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I complain about the way they stretch these movies from books out. I think it was a good idea to split Deathly Hallows into two films. I think it was a waste to do the same with Breaking Dawn. In fact, I was dead set against paying money to see Breaking Dawn, Part 2, since I had paid to see part 1. Using that logic, I should refuse to pay next year when The Desolation of Smaug is released, or when There and Back Again comes out in 2014. But I won't follow that logic. Because I love the epic scope of these movies. And Kristen Stewart isn't in any of them, which is always a plus in my book.

Honestly, I felt like An Unexpected Journey dragged a bit in the beginning. And I was a little concerned that it was going to turn into a musical. Not that I don't enjoy a good musical from time to time. But I wanted the same feeling I got seeing Fellowship of the Ring so many years ago. I wanted epic battles with bizarre creatures. I wanted larger than life landscapes with rich histories too detailed to tell. All in all, that's what I got. Yes, I do still feel like it dragged a bit. But I didn't care. Because I sat there in that darkened theater and felt genuine excitement about being back in Middle Earth. Maybe excitement is a stronger word than I really mean to use. But it was about as close to excited as someone like me could get.

I had heard people say that the creature Gollum was far creepier in this movie than he had been in the earlier trilogy. If people are really saying that, I have to agree. Creepy. Downright scary. But the scenes between Gollum and Bilbo may have been my favorite of the whole movie. I don't imagine that Gollum will show up in the next installments. Those of you learned scholars out there who have read the book, please correct me if I'm wrong. Personally, I kind of hope he does show up again, just to give the thing some more screen time. But I guess I don't want that if it messes up the integrity of the source material.

My last thought is kind of spoilery. So beware if you haven't seen it. There's a somewhat climactic battle between Bilbo and the band of dwarves he's traveling with and a small army of orcs. Gandalf manages to get some help from the ginormous eagles that we had seen in the previous trilogy. These ginormous eagles pull the dwarves away from the fight before the orcs can kill their king. They set them all down gently on a mountaintop, then fly away. After some final words to show that the dwarves have finally bonded with Bilbo Baggins, the camera pulls away to reveal their final destination, the Lonely Mountain, far away on the horizon. It's in sight, but still several days' journey on foot. My question is one that was shared by my friend Erynn. Why can't Gandalf just talk the eagles into flying them all the way to the Lonely Mountain? It would seriously cut their travel time in half and they'd never get attacked by orcs. She also brought up the point that one of these eagles could have easily flown the One Ring into Mordor and dropped the thing right into Mt. Doom. So many problems solved.

So, I've put The Hobbit on my reading list. I'll get around to it eventually. It's on there with the Lord of the Rings trilogy too. Until I get that done, I'll keep enjoying the movies. Just keep 'em coming.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

All I Want for Christmas

Ladies and gentlemen, there are only 7 shopping days left until Christmas. I know that many of you out there may be scratching your heads, wondering what to get your friendly, neighborhood Single Guy.

Now, I'm not a very materialistic kind of person. Most of the things on my wish list are items that I would likely never buy for myself. But they're items that I'd like to dream of having. Maybe I would purchase these things if I ever won the lottery that I never play.

After perusing the list below, if you feel the Christmas spirit moving you to get me a little something for the upcoming holiday, just let me know if you need my address and we can work something out.
  • A really good digital camera - I'm not a stickler for the brand or model. I just want something that will get the job done in a quality kind of way.
  • A really good video camera - I've made empty promises about video blogging in the past. But it's something I'd really like to do at some point. Can't do it without a video camera, though.
  • Community and/or How I Met Your Mother - Any season of either of these shows would be awesome. I also enjoy Modern Family. These are the programs that crack me up.
  • The Wii U - I don't have room for my current Wii. Which is why I left it in the capable hands of the Creasys. But that doesn't mean I'm not curious about the new gaming system.
  • Playstaion 3 - My mourning period is over. My old PS3 is dead. It's time to move on. This is one that I absolutely would buy for myself if I had the money to do so. But since I don't, it's on the list.
  • Gift cards - Particularly from Amazon, Target, Kroger or various restaurants.
  • Kindle Fire - I have an older Kindle that still works great, but I wouldn't mind having the thing in color.
  • A new apartment - I have a roof over my head that I can (most of the time) afford. But I'd still prefer to have a place all to myself. Having roommates with whom I have nothing in common is awkward at best. Especially when you consider my lack of personality.
I suppose that's it. Not a very long list, but I've listed some pretty pricey items. If some of you would like to go in together on some of these things, I won't hold it against you. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Question of the Week: Live or Exist

What is the difference between living and existing?

The difference here lies in how each person approaches the life they've been given. A person who simply exists is someone who sits back and lets life happen. They go with the flow, allowing the current of life's river to carry them along. Someone who is living doesn't settle for whatever life brings them. This person makes life happen. They forge their own destiny, pulling out an oar and directing their own course along life's river.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook

I'm not an emotional person. I generally don't get excited over the joyous times in my life. I don't weep over a lot of the mournful times in my life. But as I write these words, I have tears sliding down my cheeks. I'm overwhelmed with sadness, anger and confusion.

There are no words that can make sense of this senseless situation. I'm sitting in my room with the television on, the news continually washing over me. I watch as reporters try their best to make sense of a senseless situation.

I work in an elementary school. I work with small children each and every day. I'm having an incredibly difficult time separating the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut from the kids I've come to know this school year.

Over the coming days and weeks, our holiday season will be haunted by the question why. And there's a very good chance that we'll never get the answers to many of the whys that will be brought up.

My heart breaks for the community of Newtown and the families touched by this catastrophe. Pray for those families. Pray for the survivors. Pray for the investigators. Pray for your own children and others' children across the country who will also attempt to make sense of a senseless situation.

I'm not a parent. If you are, hug your kids a little bit tighter tonight. Tell them just how much you love them. Let them know how special they really are.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mark of Athena

Title: The Mark of Athena
Author: Rick Riordan
Published: 2012

Welcome to book three of Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. This, of course, is the sequel series to his previous Percy Jackson and the Olympians. This one picks up immediately where The Son of Neptune left off, with Annabeth, Jason, Leo and Piper arriving at Camp Jupiter in the Argo II, an airship built by Leo. It was difficult for me to really remember everything I needed to remember going into this thing since it's been a little over a year since I read the last book. But the author is nice enough to fill in the gaps along the way.

The world is still in peril. The earth mother, Gaea, is still in the process of waking from her slumber. Her plan to fully awaken and destroy mankind is progressing nicely, despite the young heroes' attempts to stall her. Each action taken by the heroes, though seeming to be the right thing to do, generally ends up playing right into the dirt napper's muddy hands.

In this installment, we follow all seven of the demigods who are identified in the great prophecy that predicts Gaea's awakening. Particularly of interest is Annabeth. Being a daughter of Athena, her role in a book titled The Mark of Athena seems undeniably important. While the entire group is on a quest to stop Gaea from waking, Annabeth must undertake a side quest of her own, following the mark of Athena to find an important object that could heal the rift between Greece and Rome. This is a rift that has been there for thousands of years, so her task is not an easy one.

But before Annabeth can follow the mark of Athena, she and her fellow heroes have to face obstacles all along their path to the Old World. Leo is briefly possessed by an evil spirit that forces him to attack Camp Jupiter (this really doesn't help with that rift between the Greeks and Romans). They come across the ultimate narcissist, Narcissus. They meet up with Bacchus, the Roman version of Camp Half-Blood director Dionysus. And as they enter the Mediterranean Sea, they meet the legendary Hercules, who turns out to be a pretty big jerk.

Like with the previous novels in this series, the heroes have to face a giant or two. Unlike the previous novels in this series, that battle with the giants is somewhat anti-climactic. The real excitement is saved for Annabeth and her side quest. She faces Arachne, the woman who once challenged Athena to a weave-off and, according to the myth, lost. As punishment for her arrogance, Athena turned her into a spider. It seems that all children of Athena have an innate fear of spiders for this very reason. But Annabeth succeeds and is reunited with the other heroes just in the nick of time but then... I won't say what happens. But it's good. And it's a cliffhanger, which I hate. Because I have to wait until next year for the next book in the series to come out.

All in all, I give it a thumbs up. And if you're interested in going back and reading my thoughts on the previous books in the world of Percy Jackson, the links are below.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Lightning Thief
The Sea of Monsters
The Titan's Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian

The Heroes of Olympus
The Lost Hero
The Son of Neptune

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Tales from Old Navy: Staying Late

The store is staying open later these days to accomodate holiday shoppers who are unable to gt their shopping done during normal business hours. I've never really understood this policy that most stores adopt. As Christmas approaches, stores stay open later and later. Do later hours really attract more people?
Thus far, I haven't seen it. Last week, we were staying open until 10pm. This week, we're there until 11. After that, it'll be midnight. I'm not sure that this strategy works, though. I can count the number of customers we get in our final hour on one hand.
I heard one woman who was grateful for our extended hours. She said she was a nurse working the night shift at the hospital. Our staying open late gives her a chance to buy stuff before going to work. But I have to question the motives of some of the other late-night shoppers.
Particularly, I question the family that brings in three very small children at 9pm to do some shopping. It's a school night! Your 1st grader should be at home in bed so she can be ready for tomorrow's school day. I'd be able to understand if you had a real purpose for rushing in that late at night. "My daughter ripped a hole in her jeans today and she needs a new pair for school tomorrow!" That makes more sense than leisurely strolling around the store with no real destination.
I'm not trying to judge your parenting style, but... Yes, I am judging your parenting style.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Mean

Last Friday I had the joy and distinct pleasure of joining the first grade on a field trip. Please note: my use of the words "joy" and "pleasure" are dripping with sarcasm. I still argue that sarcasm needs its own font. Or possibly its own punctuation.
In the weeks leading up to this field trip, I was somewhat excited. A field trip means a day away from the school. It means a change of routine and a breath of fresh air. Little did I know that fresh air would end up being vile and full of virulent contagions.
The day before the planned trip, the first grade teacher began sharing her fears about taking this class on this trip. The plan was to ride into downtown Roanoke (an hour drive by bus) to the history museum. There, we would meet Santa Claus and see an exhibit of antique toys. Apparently, the museum provided a list of rules which included staying quiet and not touching the exhibits. Inability to adhere to these rules could result in being asked to leave. Thinking about the majority of this first grade class, I could understand the teacher's fears.
The day of the trip arrived. We all loaded the bus without much incident and we were on our way. Oh, I should also mention, we were traveling with two kindergarten classes as well. This means there were approximately twice as many kindergarteners as first graders. If you had a bus with 30 or so kindergarteners and 16 first graders, which group would you think would give you the most trouble. I'd say the kindergarteners, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong, though. It's the first graders.
They were constantly standing in their seats, yelling, screaming, complaining about who they had to sit with. A few, no matter how many times they were told, kept getting up and turning around. It was quite irritating (really not a strong enough word).
By some amazing Christmas miracle, we did not get kicked out of the museum. But the kids were pretty rude while Santa explained the importance of being good and following directions. Some laid on the floor, not listening. Some rolled around on the floor. One girl peed in her pants. She was sitting right next to the teacher and didn't think to ask to go to the bathroom.
The class picture with Santa was not without incident. The girl who had the biggest problem listening, who we'll call Annoyance, pulled Santa's beard. Not a fake beard, by the way. And good for the old man for not backhanding that kid. That might have been my first impulse in his boots. On the plus side, the kids didn't take turns sitting on Santa's lap. He didn't have to deal with Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl.
Lunch was in the Market Building, which was always a highlight of downtown field trips when I was a kid. But that's back when the international food court was a big thing. Not many options after the renovations. We ate our packed lunches up on the mezzanine level overlooking the food court. Annoyance attempted to lift a kindergarten girl over the rail of the barrier. I'd never heard her teacher yell that loud before.
When lunch ended, we had the students line up outside to await the bus. Annoyance decided it would be a great idea to start pulling flowers out of hte decorative planters surrounding the Market Building. More yelling from the teacher. Would you believe that Annoyance is not one of my clients?
I can't believe I left this out. It's kind of important to the story. A couple of us grown-ups met the bus at the Market Building before lunch to unload all the packed meals. When the bus pulled away, it knocked over a metal pole at the curb. Two of the four bolts holding it to the street were ripped up, sending chunks of asphalt and concrete flying. I set it back upright so no one would get in trouble. But a strong wind could have knocked over again. Anyway...
I offered to intimidate the children, frightening them with feats of strength. The plan was to knock over the metal pole at the curb, threatening to do the same to the kids if they could not wait quietly. I should have done it.
Back on the bus. More complaining, screaming, yelling, standing. The kindergarteners were still fairly quiet. This may have been because many of them were feeling bus sick. Throughout the trip, we may have been seconds away from becoming a rolling vomitorium at any given time. That nauseating feeling was only perpetuated by the stench of urine coming from Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl sitting in the back. It was, I wanna say, really bad.
Here comes the part where I get mean. It doesn't happen often, so people who witness it are sometimes impressed. I wouldn't describe it as a loss of temper. I think I just choose to speak or act with authority, whether I actually have it or not.
Annoyance was constantly getting up. Shocker, right? I stood up and towered over her (I'm short, but I can tower over a six-year-old). "Sit down!" I shouted. Again, with authority, not anger. It was enough authority to probably shock most of the other kids into silence for a moment. Amazingly, she sat. And she stayed seated until the bus stopped at a gas station halfway to the school.
We needed a short break for the kids feeling queasy. The first graders took that opportunity to stand, whine, yell, complain and scream some more. I stood up again. I faced all the first graders.
"You are all being entirely too loud. The kindergarteners are all sitting quietly, the way you're supposed to when you ride the bus. We have 20 minutes left on this bus. I expect each of you to stay in your seat and sit quietly. You can talk, but I don't want to hear anyone yelling. Raise your hand if you understand everything I just said." Every hand shot up. "Good, then all of you can follow directions."
Before I could even sit back in my own seat, Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl stood up and turned around in the aisle. "Peed-In-Your-Pants Girl! Didn't I just tell everyone to stay in their seat?!" She sat immediately and put her jacket over her head.
We started moving again. It wasn't long before Annoyance found a loophole in my directions. She wasn't getting up, but she put her legs in the aisle and turned around to annoy a boy behind her. Eventually he became so annoyed that he slapped her (after asking her several times to turn back around).
I stepped back in. "Annoyance, if you turn around again I'm going to come back there and sit on you."
Two minutes later, she was facing the back again. So I stood up, ready to follow through on my promise. Annoyance stood up, not wanting me to sit on her lap. She told me she didn't want me to sit on her lap. She told me she didn't want me to sit on her. "Then you shouldn't have turned around again. Sit down!"
Annoyance sat. She, too, covered her head with her jacket. Pretty sure I made her cry. I was a little concerned that my actions may have been frowned upon, but I received a high five from the principal upon returning to the school.
And that is the true story of my first, and hopefully last first grade field trip.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Question of the Week: Celebrate

Do you celebrate the things you do have?

Not as much as I should. For example, I spent a great deal of time and energy mourning the loss of my Playstation on Saturday. I can get by just fine without the thing. It's just that not having it is an inconvenience. Instead of complaining about not having a luxury item, I should really just be grateful for all that I still have. I'm blessed enough to have so many of my needs met on a daily basis. Okay, all my needs. On top of that, I get to have a lot of wants that I just take for granted.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


My Playstation 3 died this morning. She was 4 years old.

I purchased the PS3 as a used piece of machinery from a video game store not long after I moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina. It was early 2008 and I had recently received my tax refund check. I had money to burn. At the time, I could have very easily talked myself out of buying the thing. After all, it's not a cheap system, even if it's used. But I very easily talked myself into buying it. The version I bought was backwards compatible, meaning I could play all those PS2 games I had accumulated since college. It was a Bluray player, meaning I could watch lots of awesome movies in high definition. That was enough to get my money.

Later, the PS3 became an even more awesome investment since I was able to play streaming movies through Netflix. Over the years, with the ridiculous expense of cable, the Playstation 3 has become my all-in-one entertainment center. I've had no need for, really, anything else. Cable's useless. I rarely watch TV live anymore since Hulu Plus is also available on the Playstation. Fewer commercials that way.

Last night, before going to bed, I decided to watch a DVD. For record keeping purposes, the movie was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was a good movie. Once it ended, I turned off the system (leaving the disc in it) and went to bed.

This morning I had some free time. So I thought it would be fun to play a video game. Something I rarely do during the school year. Things get in the way and I just don't have the time. I turned on the system. The red light turned green, letting me know it was powering up. It quickly flashed yellow. Then switched back to red. Then it was flashing. There was no indication of the disc inside it. When I tried to eject the movie, the machine just beeped angrily at me.

I called the good people at Sony customer service. I told the woman on the line basically what I just typed above. Apparently she wasn't listening because her first bit of advice was to turn on the Playstation. Seriously? That's your first step? I hadn't thought of that. Why didn't I think to turn the machine on?

When I explained, again, that the PS3 could not be turned on, she told me that I have two options. My first option would be to have the system shipped to Sony so they could fix it. This would cost me $129 plus tax and shipping. They would be able to retrieve the disc but there was really no guarantee that they could fix the machine. Option 2 involved trading in my current, old school PS3 for a newer model to the tune of $99 plus tax and shipping. The problem there is I lose everything I've saved on the PS3 hard drive. Also, the new models are not backwards compatible. So all those old PS2 games I have become worthless pieces of round plastic.

"So, basically, I'm screwed," I said into the phone. My voice came out of my mouth with an extremely irritated tone. I immediately apologized to the woman on the other end of the line. It wasn't her fault that the Playstation decided to kick the bucket. She just happened to be the unfortunate operator who happened to pick up when I was next in the queue. And she probably gets calls from customers more irate than me all the time. I hate sounding pissed off with someone who had nothing to do with my actual problem.

Since I had nothing to lose, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I haven't been under warranty for a very long time. So I broke the seal. I opened her up. I took her apart. I got my movie back. But that's all I was able to successfully do.

I looked online and, apparently, my problem has been deemed the "Yellow Light of Death." YouTubers have posted numerous videos explaining how to fix the problem. It involves a hair dryer and about 45 minutes of your day. Unfortunately, I don't have a hair dryer. And even if I did, they all make it clear that this is not a permanent fix. Eventually, the Yellow Light of Death would return to claim the PS3 again. That kind of makes me ask the question, "What's the point?"

So I've decided to let it go. I got angry. It's a huge inconvenience. But it doesn't end my life. So now I've accepted it. I can get by without a Playstation 3 for a while. Eventually, I'll be able to save up enough money to buy a brand new Playstation. And it will be a luxury item that I will once again be able to enjoy.

Or maybe it's not just an inconvenience. Maybe it's just another sign of the apocalypse. Why are the Mayans screwing with me!?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Hazards of Having a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I'm sure by now most of you have heard the Christmas classic "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." I say classic because the song is nearly 60 years old. I don't call it a classic because I enjoy hearing it year after year. I find it to be obnoxious. And irritating. And extremely catchy. Which is probably the most irritatingly obnoxious aspect of the song's appeal.

If you haven't heard the song, count your blessings (I'll get negative feedback for that, I'm sure. People tend to get really defensive about this thing for some reason). And, if you haven't heard it, you probably don't know it's sung by a little girl who is basically asking Santa Claus for a hippopotamus for Christmas. Though, I suppose you could have gleaned that tidbit of information from the title.

To give the little girl credit, she's only asking for a hippo. Nothing else on her wish list. Just a 4,000 pound mammal that she can hide in her garage. Like most kids who ask for a pet, she swears that she'll take care of it all by herself. Can you imagine a 10-year-old child taking care of a hippopotamus? Let's imagine that scenario for a moment.

The first problem this kid should think about is the feeding of the hippo. She's right when she mentions the hippo being a vegetarian. But has she thought about how much vegetation it would take to keep a creature of that size alive? Roughly 150 pounds of grass on a daily basis. All right, I mowed my share of lawns as a teenager. Okay, I mowed my lawn as a teenager. But I did it many times. And we didn't have one of those mulching mowers. So after mowing, I raked grass into piles and bagged it to be thrown out with the trash. I always questioned it; figured there had to be a better way. I was just doing as I was told. Anyway, I think we can all agree that I'm a wuss when it comes to the heavy lifting. If I could lift a bag full of grass clippings, I think I can safely say that it was significantly less than 150 pounds. For argument's sake, let's just say the little girl with the hippo is allowing the animal to graze in her back yard. Her over-sized pet is probably ripping the grass out by the roots as it eats. Eventually, there won't be any grass left. Probably after one day of feeding. And then what do you do, little girl? Will little miss "I'm gonna take care of my hippopotamus" go out and get a job so she can pay for the ridiculous amounts of grass that the hippo will need to eat? I don't think so. There are child labor laws that would prevent such a travesty. That means that mommy and daddy are paying for your hippo's food. Lesson the first: You can't properly feed a hippo in the back yards of suburbia.

Problem number two involves the hippo's enclosure. That's what the zoos call them these days. But a two-car garage will not make for a proper hippopotamus habitat. Hippos thrive in lakes and rivers. They like to spend their days wallowing in mud. It keeps them cool on the hot African savannah. I can't imagine that mom and dad will be too thrilled if their little girl attempts to fill the garage with wet dirt. Even so, again, how would she pay for such a thing? Granted, she'll have plenty of mud in your backyard once it rains after her hippo's first (and only) grazing. This still doesn't solve the problem of having some deep water where her hippo can frolic. If the family has a pool, that may work. I wouldn't chlorinate the thing, for the hippo's sake. But a pool seriously takes up space, giving a lot less room for grass to grow. Lesson the second: A hippo will not be comfortable hanging out on a concrete floor with oil stains 24/7.

Finally we come to the issue of a hippo's aggression. By nature, hippopotami are very aggressive beasts. If our little songstress receives a male, she'll have to deal with his extreme territorial behavior every time she tries to feed him his 150 pounds of grass clippings. If she gets a female, well, God help her parents if the hippo becomes attached. The females are overly protective of their young. I'm not sure how it works with hippo to human bonding, but it's an experiment I would not be willing to partake in. Of course, this is ignoring the fact that hippos have been known to attack humans without provocation. So imagine what they would do if a certain little girl forgets to let them outside for their time in the pool. CHOMP! That jaw closes with 1800 pounds of force and someone's coming back from the garage missing an arm. Not that the hippo would eat the arm. He or she still prefers the grass that it hasn't been getting since clearing out the back yard. Lesson the third: Hippos are just mean.

It is my sincere hope that this little girl did not, in fact, receive a hippopotamus for Christmas in 1953. I hope her parents made her settle for a screening of Fantasia. At the very least, she should be happy with that scene involving ballerina hippos. Maybe her parents took her to a decent zoo with a hippo exhibit. Sadly, she had to wait 25 years for Hungry Hungry Hippos to be introduced to the world. But it's my hope that she was able to enjoy that game in her adulthood.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

New Tales from Old Navy

It's been a long time since I've worked a job in retail. The last time was back in 2005. At the time I was working full time in an entry level position in the human services field. This necessitated a part time job with Old Navy to help me put a little extra into my student loans.

I was only there for a few months. For one thing, I received a promotion at the children's home which came with a bump in my salary. For another, that full time gig was an overnight job. That made it very difficult to be a daywalker.

Fast forward seven years. After spending too much time in the world of banking, I've come back to the human services field. But that also means, essentially, that I'm back in an entry level position. This, yet again, necessitates a part time position to help with the monthly budget.

This has brought me right back to Old Navy. I went online, applied and, thankfully, they rehired me. As of now, I'm only considered a seasonal employee. My hope is that my position will become more permanent after the New Year. My need for this extra income won't disappear after Christmas.

Not sure if I've mentioned this, but when I'm not at the school working with the kids, I don't get paid. Election Day? No pay. Thanksgiving break? No pay. Christmas vacation? Two weeks of no pay. And those are just the scheduled days off. I don't want to think about the snow we may or may not get.

While I really don't want a second job, times are tight. I was barely able to get by on what I had this past summer thanks to all that time off school. Hopefully the good people of Old Navy will keep me around to see me through the winter. And next summer. And probably next winter.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Question of the Week: Judging You

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?

I would drive differently. And I do drive differently when no one else is in the car with me. Real life example: I'm carpooling now. We've recently hired a new counselor at my school. Since we live near each other, it makes sense to ride to work together. The two of us have decided to take my car since it gets the best gas mileage. So now I feel like I should drive a little more slowly on the treacherous road that I usually drive at breakneck speeds. It's a scary road. I don't want to scare her off in the first week.